Million-dollar question: Special election to replace Latvala?

Not likely, as two counties say seat should remain vacant until fall<br>
Map of Florida Senate District 16
Map of Florida Senate District 16
Published Jan. 17, 2018|Updated Jan. 17, 2018

Jack Latvala’s resignation leaves about a half million residents of Tampa Bay with no voice in the Florida Senate, and it now appears they won’t have one until November.

Election supervisors in Pinellas and Pasco counties agree that the cost of a special election is so high -- in excess of $1 million -- that it makes sense to leave the seat vacant until next November when it will be filled anyway, because Latvala’s term was due to expire.

“I really feel that this is a common-sense decision,” said Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark. “The information that we’ve provided makes a clear picture.”

Clark and Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley co-signed a letter to state elections officials, citing the high cost of a special election and the fact that the five-day candidate qualifying period begins on June 18. That’s the first formal step in electing Latvala’s permanent successor.

“The justification of the enormous cost is hard to swallow,” Corley said.

The cost of a special election includes opening and staffing early voting sites, paying poll workers and mailing ballots in a district with nearly 350,000 voters.

A decision by Gov. Rick Scott is imminent. Under state law, Scott has the discretion to not call a special election if a replacement senator would not be sworn in until after the end of the regular session.

This year’s session is scheduled to end March 9, and Latvala’s replacement wouldn’t be sworn in until June at the earliest.

About two-thirds of all voters in the coastal Senate District 16 live in North Pinellas and the rest are in Pasco. State election timelines require a 45-day window before an election for ballots to be sent to overseas and active military voters, and results of an election are not ratified until 14 days after the polls close.

Latvala resigned Jan. 5. Senate President Joe Negron has kept all four of Latvala’s legislative assistants on the state payroll, and other Tampa Bay senators have all expressed a willingness to handle some of Senate District 16’s workload.

In addition to the work of filing bills and amendments, voting on hundreds of issues and seeking money for state and local programs, senators help their constituents navigate a vast state bureaucracy, help people find jobs and get state licenses and write letters of recommendation for students and job-seekers.